A Brighton shade of Green

What is the wider significance of the Greens' success in Brighton and how can they build on it? Hilary Wainwright caught up with the party's new MP Caroline Lucas as she set up office in Westminster

May 29, 2010
4 min read


Hilary WainwrightHilary Wainwright is a member of Red Pepper's editorial collective and a fellow of the Transnational Institute.

Hilary Wainwright How do you explain your victory, beyond extremely hard work and a concentration of Green Party resources?

Caroline Lucas We were building on people’s familiarity with Green policies and politicians after many years of Green councillors Brighton. When they see them in action, they like them and want more. That’s meant we’ve been able to increase our vote year-on-year, including at the European elections last year when the Greens came ahead of every other party not only in Brighton but in Norwich and Oxford too.

Brighton is a very politically savvy place – people here are interested in politics, and they like to be ahead of the curve. This election gave us the opportunity to emphasise not just our environmental policies but our strong policies on social justice and tackling inequality too. With declining support for Labour, we were perceived by many as the party to keep the Conservatives out. The Lib Dems are very weak in Brighton with only two councillors out of 54.

Wainwright And the fall in the Green vote elsewhere?

Lucas The Green vote was squeezed, not least because of our archaic electoral system, the lack of state funding for political parties (we could only afford to field candidates in half the seats), and because of the effect of the TV leader debates, excluding smaller parties. The areas where the three main parties agreed and we had very different views (privatisation, Afghanistan, cuts rather than our programme of £44 billion in investment) were not put under any real examination.

Wainwright Being an MP can isolate people from their base, in spite of good intentions. How will you resist these pressures? How will you use the position to help build progressive alliances and initiatives?

Lucas I’m sure the Green Party will keep me grounded! I intend to be a vigorous constituency MP, engaging with residents with a range of tools: social media, traditional surgeries, open-air ‘street meets’ – of which we’ve had two so far in Brighton. We are also examining how my work can best link up with the party’s wider campaigning efforts. I will be voting on issues on a case-by-case basis, and hope that alliances can be forged on specific issues with more progressive MPs, whatever their party.

Wainwright Obviously the cuts are going to be a key issue. What will be your strategy to defend public services and benefits? What lessons do you draw from the Green Party’s experience in Ireland [where it entered into a government coalition in 2007]?

Lucas I plan to forge links with all those who oppose the cuts, particularly from the unions, and with groups like the Green New Deal group. There are alternatives to public spending cuts. We should be making a strong case for higher taxes for those on higher incomes, together with more imaginative revenue-raising ideas like the Robin Hood tax and cracking down on tax evasion and avoidance. It’s precisely at a time of recession that we need government investment in the green infrastructure, both to cut emissions and – crucially – to create jobs as fast as possible. The lesson from Ireland is not to join coalitions until you are strong enough to have real influence over them.

Wainwright Is there any scope to get half-decent green policies out of the Tory Lib coalition?

Lucas Clearly, we can support some measures the coalition has announced – cancelling runway expansion at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted, for example. But this goes nowhere near far enough: we need an end to all airport expansion in the UK. A green investment bank is definitely a positive step forward – but the challenge will be to ensure that all economic activity is put in a context of recognising environmental limits.

An early test of the government will be its position at the European energy ministers’ meeting in Brussels to discuss whether Europe should revise its main climate target upwards – they absolutely must do this. The Conservatives also have to recognise that while ‘localism’ is good, only central government has the big economic levers to drive investment in clean technologies.

Wainwright How can you use your position to go beyond specific issues to develop and project an alternative vision? How do you intend to work with the many people outside the Green Party who broadly share your politics?

Lucas I’m absolutely convinced that the task of developing an alternative vision needs to involve as many groupings, networks and individuals as possible. Greens have a lot to contribute – but it has to be a genuinely grass-roots process, involving all of those who want to see a transformation in our economy and society, so that social and environmental justice is at its heart.


Hilary WainwrightHilary Wainwright is a member of Red Pepper's editorial collective and a fellow of the Transnational Institute.


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next

Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace

Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill

Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility

Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports

From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices

How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed

In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design

Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform

Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out

Don’t delay – ditch coal
Take action this month with the Coal Action Network. By Anne Harris

Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen

Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant

Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’

Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue

A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank

News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions

Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release

Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts

‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette

The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.

How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op

Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU

Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity

Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson

Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release

University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.

Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.

Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History

Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.


1